Originally written by me (Eri/Valerie) for Womanitely.com.
Leaving the home country, wherever that might be, is as scary of a thought as it is enthralling. Though the world has been mapped and adventure comes attached with a GPS, you never truly know what’s out there in the world until you step out into it.
To those seeking a life abroad or to move to another foreign country, here is some advice. Having moved from the United States of America to Japan, I have developed six tips that not only kept me in check but can aid you as well.
1. Be frugal
Moving is a money wormhole. You pray those dollars will get transported elsewhere, but it just goes poof. You spend loads on the packing, shipping, airfare, renting a new residence and everything else attached to emigration. Those are unavoidable expenses. What you can do to reduce the moving cost, as well as living comfortably thereafter, is to remember frugality.
You will be tempted to fill your new abode with trinkets and appliances you did not have before, get the cutest linens and whatnot. Pace yourself. Embrace minimalism. Treasure the heartfelt belongings that came with you from the home country. Budget for rent, utilities and food – the standard comforts everyone needs. Then slowly look into second-hand items or ethnic goods that will be of lower cost than what you are used to.
If you have a work visa, you will have more money than those on a tourist or student visa, but that does not mean you will be financially stable until after a few months of labor. Pinch those pennies until you do not fret over the days between paychecks. Continue to spend wisely, because you never know what will happen.
2. Crave independence
There is a spike of helplessness that often makes even the strongest of women break down while living abroad. Injecting yourself into the bloodstream of another culture, another world, as like asking to be treated as a foreign substance to that country’s system.
You might not get the best treatment from the locals. You might consider relying heavily on those that do show kindness and concern. Don’t. At least not 100%. Even if you moved with family, do not cling to that familiarity.
Just by taking the leap and going out into this crazy world to start anew, you have achieved something commendable. You have proven you are a strong, independent woman capable of taking on the challenge of emigrating alone.
Keep that in the back of your mind. Do things alone, even if it means getting lost, confused and frustrated. Those moments of sheer solidarity in your life are what will make your grow astronomically.
3. Ask questions
Similar to staying independent, be inquiring. If something does not seem right, it probably isn’t. Women have the incredible ability to read emotions and energy. Should someone or something seem slimy, throw salt on it and walk away. Question your surroundings, question the culture, question the methods of life – and then weigh the answers with your own intuition.
Not only that, question things as a local would:
- Where can I get this item for cheaper? Are there stores made specifically for this grocery/medicine/object? What is the generic brand or the brand everyone here loves?
- Where do the people of my age group hangout? Is that my kind of scene?
- What are the safest regions of the area? The worst?
- What is the best means of transportation here?
- Are there more affordable utility companies?
- How do the locals handle this kind of problem?
- In the event of an emergency, are there safe zones? (For example, in Japan, because of the high occurrence of earthquakes, I wanted to settle in a quiescent zone to avoid a massive shake.)
- What is the local diet like? Is the produce fresh and organic? Are the offerings seasonal, or can I get what I need year round?
4. Mess up
We are human beings. Expect to make huge blunders – cultural and otherwise. The country you emigrate to will undoubtedly have different societal norms than the place you are coming from. Even if you do not experience culture shock, be prepared to run into various barriers.
Should the country use a different language than ones you are fluent in, be prepared to mess up when speaking to the locals. Better yet, mess up on purpose. I am not talking about becoming an ostentatious eejit. I am talking about learning from your mistakes. Observe how the locals react when you hover a finger over a button labeled ‘cultural no-no’ then keep it in the back of your mind.
Other mistakes worth making include getting lost when trying to find your way around, because you never know what treasures you can find in the back alleys; ordering the wrong food item from a menu you did not understand, because nothing says immersion like eating mysterious; dialing the wrong number, because you will learn politeness; and calling someone or something by the wrong name, because you will learn how to deal with awkwardness.
5. Find friends and family
The world you left behind means testing the limits of relationships. There is going to be people who do not accept your decision and cast you off. Do not get discourage by the sudden distance from friends and family, because if there is one thing I learned while living abroad, it is that family does not have to be blood.
By staying independent, putting yourself out there in the world and showing eagerness to assimilate, you will attract a new set of individuals into your life who will be unlike anyone you have ever met before. These will be the people who accept you for who you are and expect you to simply be. Building a life abroad is not easy, but when you have a support, you will do it much easier.
6. Know thyself
Lastly, in order to fulfill your potential in this new land, you need to know who you are. A lot of this comes as a by-product of the move. You will be forced to meet your insecurities face-to-face, often alone, hungry and tired.
You will see yourself for who you truly are – and there is nothing wrong with that. Because you are strong. Before, during and after the move, you will be forged into a heroine who is uniquely you.
Seeking a life outside of the familiar is a challenge. But it is by no means insurmountable. Tackling the issues of moving, dealing with cultural aspects much different from what you are used to, and the expectations of a society you do not know can be tough.
However, if you stay frugal, independent, inquisitive and open-minded, you will not only succeed, you will empower those around you with your triumphs. So go out there, and do not be afraid to get lost along the way. The best paths are the ones less traveled.